It is no secret that many Western nations harbor mixed feelings about Chinese visitors. And it shows in their actions.
On one hand, they roll out the red carpet for Chinese shoppers, whose impressive spending power and strong appetite for extravagance is seen as a crucial lifeline for tourism and retail industries. But when it comes to offering preferential treatment like visa-free entry or visa on arrival to Chinese passport holders, the countries are more often likely to say no.
Loutish behavior ranging from spitting on the roads to talking in loud voices, and much worse, by Chinese tourists is part of the reason. Just look at the picture in Hong Kong across the border where there is mounting resentment of mainlanders among the locals, and you will get some idea.
But perhaps a more underlying cause is the staggering number of illegal immigrants. Many Chinese from Wenzhou and Fujian province flocked to the United States and Europe in the 1990s and 2000s. But demand has not abated, with new visitors tending to overstay and seek asylum there. The situation forced many authorities to keep a tight rein on people from China.
For example, if an unmarried Chinese woman applies for a tourist visa to go to Singapore on her own, she is likely to be turned away. That is because in previous years many mainlanders went to the city-state in the name of sightseeing and stayed there as sex workers. Elsewhere, a report from the International Labor Organization in 2005 has estimated that there were 50,000-80,000 illegal Chinese workers in France.
Visa-free arrangement is always reached on a mutually beneficial basis, but despite the trials permitting 24 or 36-hour visa-free transit stay in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, China only allows nationals of Japan, Singapore and Brunei to visit without a visa.
All of these leads to the rather embarrassing truth that just 41 countries and territories have granted passport holders of the world’s second largest economy the privilege of visa-free entry or visa on arrival, according to the Henley Visa Restriction Index 2012. China is in the same league with Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq in this regard.
This is in stark contrast to Hong Kong passport holders who can travel to 147 countries worldwide visa-free (the only major power that is yet to grant visa-free entry is the US, but Hong Kong applicants are given multiple-visit visas that are generally valid for 10 years). Taiwan nationals also enjoy convenient travel to 130 countries.
Among the 41 countries that welcome Chinese with relatively open arms, most are from Africa — in places entangled in civil wars or political turmoil like Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi — or destinations most Chinese have never heard of, like Niue, an island country in the South Pacific Ocean.
But Chinese passport holders may still find it impossible to visit some of these countries genuinely visa-free: Andorra, for instance, requires no visa for Chinese visitors but the 467-square kilometer microstate has no airport; to go there you need to travel to France or Spain first — both of these two countries require visa for Chinese visitors.
Thailand is currently the only major tourist destination that grants visa on arrival treatment, but you are still advised to obtain a Thai visa before you go as otherwise Chinese immigration inspectors won’t let you board the plane if you just hand them a blank passport.
If you are still determined to go abroad, especially to a Western country, then you’ll have to face the daunting task of applying for a visa.
Usually, you need to book a round-trip air ticket and arrange accommodation beforehand and prepare copies of your household registration record (hukou), letter of consent from the local public security bureau where your hukou is kept, social security account, employment proof, pay slips, bank statements (ideally with a deposit of 50,000 yuan (US$8,250) or above for a period of no less than three months), etc.
Some extra paperwork may be required to convince foreign immigration officers that you have adequate money to fund your trip and will go back as promised. If you wish to visit as an individual tourist rather than being a member of a guided group, usually a guarantor in the destination country is a must.
It’s true that some countries are now simplifying the procedures. Canada plans to issue multiple-entry visas that are valid for 10 years to Chinese business travelers and it is said that the United Kingdom is planning to ease the visa requirements after a Financial Times report pointed out that the nation’s visa rules deter Chinese shoppers. But these moves are only so much in terms of lowering application fees and shortening waiting times.
The sad truth is, a wave of visa waivers for Chinese passport holders is something that is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
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